Celebrating Whole Grains Month

If you’ve been following our Twitter account, you may have noticed whole grains mentioned a few times (like this for example; or this).  Regular blog readers may have also noticed whole grains mentioned before as well; we even profiled one in our Secret Ingredient series.  As you can tell we’re fans of whole grains, but this brings up a good question:  what exactly is a whole grain? Diagram of a whole grain kernel

To be considered a whole grain, all three parts of the grain kernel—germ, endosperm  and bran—must remain intact.  The germ is the part of the kernel that will grow into a new plant if fertilized, the endosperm the food supply for the developing plant.  The bran is the tough outer coating that protects the germ and endosperm.  When grains are processed and refined, the germ and bran are removed (and many nutrients along with them—the bran contains B vitamins and fiber; the germ contains minerals, healthy fats and some protein) leaving only the starchy endosperm.  Products made with refined white flour need to have nutrients like iron, folate and niacin added back in to replace what was lost. 

Diets rich in whole grains have been shown to lower blood pressure, and because they contain more fiber and protein, they’re less likely to cause blood sugar spikes than refined grains.  Common whole grains include brown rice, oats and corn (both on the cob varieties and popcorn).  But if you’re feeling adventurous, you might want to try one of the lesser known varieties like amaranth or spelt. 

When shopping for whole grains don’t be fooled by the color—just because the bread on the shelf is brown doesn’t mean it’s whole grain!  Some companies add coloring to white bread to make it darker.  Read the label carefully and look for products that say “100% whole grain” or have “whole grain” in the name of first item on the ingredient list.  You can also look for the Whole Grain Council’s stamp on the package.

(Post content reviewed by MGH Nutrition Department)
Heart Health, Nutrition, recipes, Secret Ingredient

The Secret Ingredient Is…Quinoa

Cooking Utensils
Photo Credit: Päivi Rytivaara

Whole grains have gained a lot of attention lately.  They have been shown to promote heart health and are good sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals.  One of the key recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans updated earlier this year was replacing at least half of our refined grains with whole grains.  Oatmeal, barley, buckwheat and corn are all pretty common; examples of less common whole grains include amaranth and bulgur.  Another whole grain that has been steadily increasing in popularity is quinoa.  

Although considered a grain product, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is actually a seed native to South America.  While it has been appearing more and more in steadily in American supermarkets recently, quinoa has been grown and harvested for thousands of years—it was once was a staple food for the Incas.  Quinoa is high in protein, with 9 grams in each cup (cooked).  It’s also a complete protein, meaning it has all the essential amino acids the body needs to function but can’t produce on its own (meat, dairy products and soy are also complete proteins).  And, because it doesn’t contain gluten, a protein found in many grain products, quinoa is ideal for someone on a gluten free diet.  

In addition to being high in protein, quinoa is also a good source of iron and folate, and vitamin B2 (riboflavin) which the body uses when converting food into energy.  Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium, a mineral necessary for many of the body’s day to day functions from repairing cells to maintaining a regular heart beat.  

Quinoa is easy to prepare, usually simmered in hot water like rice, and cooks quickly—ready to serve in 12-15 minutes (compare this to 30+ minute cook time for brown rice).  Just remember to rinse your quinoa well before cooking to remove the seeds’ bitter coating. 

Looking to try a new side dish?  Try this quinoa salad recipe recommended by one of our nutritionists: 

 Orange Quinoa Salad
(Recipe adapted from Cooking Light)

1-1/3 cup quinoa, uncooked
2-3/4 cup water
¼ cup orange juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 tbsp reduced fat (2%) buttermilk
2 tsp honey
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 cup scallions, sliced
1 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
3 tbsp pumpkin seeds (or pepitas)

Place uncooked quinoa in a large skillet and cook 4 minutes on medium heat, stirring frequently. Next, place quinoa in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Repeat rinsing procedure a second time (this removes quinoa’s natural bitter coating). Combine quinoa and 2-3/4 cups of water together in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the quinoa boils, cover and reduce heat; cook for about 20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Meanwhile, whisk orange juice, olive oil, buttermilk, honey, salt and pepper together in a bowl and set aside. When quinoa is cooked through, remove from heat and let cool. Toss quinoa with orange juice mixture, scallions, cranberries, parsley and pumpkin seeds and serve room temperature.

Yield: (10 servings; 1/2 cup each)

CALORIES: 185 calories
SODIUM: 155 g
Iron: 2 g
FIBER: 3 g
FAT: 6 g Sat Fat: 1.0 g

(Post content reviewed by MGH Nutrition Department)